There’s always a day after… And when contextualizing that to Christmas, for many of us, the day after can be one marred by weighted solemnity. An entire year spent trudging through the mud of calendar days until we reach that pinnacle of our 365—Christmas. There’s such a lead up to it. Only for it to culminate in a precipitous disappearance. I think for me, as a boy, Christmas represented an idyllic juxtaposition to my everyday. A time of majesty and splendor. Summer holidays away from the rigors of scholastic albatross were great and highly anticipated, sure. But it had nothing on Christmas. And although, admittedly, Christmas was not always the festive jubilation it ought to be in our family, it was still something different from the norm of disease, abuse, suicidality and depression that so typically and tragically dwelled within our home.
At least at Christmas, when things got bad, I could lose myself when casting forlorn gaze into a nictating bulb. A way of pretending that the world was just a little brighter. TV commercials that played with endless repetition; a constant reminder that things were different now. Even the outside world transformed; snow. Growing up in the mountains, you were privy to the impending season by way of snowline steadily descending the forested pines that overlooked our humble town. “Yep… looks like snow’s two-weeks out.” When the snow had reached half-way down the distant mountain side, you could be sure to hear those words spoken by passing townsfolk at any given time. I couldn’t help but smile each time I did. Most people enjoy sunny days and a gentle breeze; me? I’ve always held reverence for the cumulonimbus of an approaching deluge. Something about inclement weather and its contrast to the everyday comforted me as a boy. Still does today as a man. I suppose you could say that rainy days just feel like Christmas—a change from it all.
My mother loved to decorate. As the season inched ever nearer, more and more sparkle was withdrawn from sealed containers. From bottom floor to ceilings above, our domicile transformed from a modest home to a cornucopia of festive delights. I think I’ve always enjoyed the season and its build up more than the gifts themselves, really. Our home was never more aromatic than it was on those crisp winter days; mum’s Cornish pasties and sausage rolls. As my fingers hit these keys, my nose remembers the spices and warmth of mum’s delectables.
As a man, that idealism and fondness of season has never left me. It has become a little less forefront and vastly more conflicting, but that is likely due to the places life has taken me. For many years in my adult life, Christmas was not viewed at through the prism of reprieve and family—it was either anticipating overtime, or being scheduled to be at work anyway. Excellent ways to hide from a crumbling relationship that made Christmas feel like the loneliest day of the year. As a paramedic, we seldom get to choose our holidays. And being a paramedic on Christmas… well… it’s hardly a festivus.
I have managed to hold and carry a few of the tangibles that made Christmas, Christmas, for me. One of those appurtenances is the tireless viewing of the film: A Christmas Story, starring Peter Billingsley as the wide-eyed, intrepid seeker of the Red Rider BB gun; Ralphie!
Without fail, no matter the mood, circumstance or location—I watch this movie each and every year! There’s an unrehearsed warmth and comfort that boasts from its scratchy, timeworn screenplay. For 93 minutes, I am whisked away to the snowy streets of Cleveland, Ohio; watching as Ralphie schemes and plots his perfect Christmas caper.
Ralphie’s cantankerous father always forces a smile to my otherwise consternated expression. This year, I smiled for a different reason, and then another one still—I got to introduce my girlfriend, Sheena, to my holiday staple—we watched while intertwined with one another, nestled by the cushions of the couch. The aged low-end muffle of the film’s audio played through the TV from one scene to the next. Eventually, Ralphie’s schoolmate, Flick, entered frame. He and another scholastic youth sparred verbally about the intricacies of placing one’s tongue to the freezing metal of a pole. I, already knowing how this all plays out, chuckled to myself as I squeezed Sheena just a little tighter in my arms.
Suddenly, my entertained stare was removed from ingesting the film and its contents. My mind rapidly began playing for me a scene which is not from a movie. At least, not in the traditional sense of it all. A movie in my mind, absolutely. I was recalling a snowy Christmas afternoon spent on the ambulance. A call came in for a youth who had stuck their tongue to a pole at a park and was now in dire need of emergency medical services due to sheer panic, fright and immovability.
I was surprised to read that dispatch wanted us to respond with lights and sirens. The reason for this was because whomever had called 9-1-1, had indicated that the youngling was having difficulty breathing. The more likely reality was that our tongue stricken young fella was panicking and thus, breathing rapidly. Regardless, we flipped the switch and began moving steadfast toward our beckoned destination.
The snow fell from the sky in heaping swaths of white sway. Although we were travelling at an emergency level, our ability was hindered to some degree. Eventually though, we made it to the park. I could see from the driver’s side window a decent gathering of people, all huddled concerningly around an arching set of climbing bars that had a pole in the middle of it.
My partner and I grabbed our gear and began navigating the freshly fallen snow, forging our own path toward the gaggle. As we neared, I began to notice that the expression slathered on the people’s faces were less that of shock and horror, and more that of subtle mirthfulness. This caused a bend to my brow. I heard a voice hidden within the shroud of people say “the paramedics are here, Jim.” Followed by inaudible pleas for assistance. This confused me further, as the indiscernible cries carried with it a respectively deep baritone.
When I had pried through the sea of people, I was confronted by the sight of a grown man, stubble and all, stuck to a pole. It was not a child that had licked the icy structure—it was a child who had dared a full-framed man to do it—and he did! Sorrily so.
“Hello, sir… what seems to be the problem today?” I said with well rehearsed sincerity that masked perfectly my mocking query.
“Uh… I gaw thtcuk thoo the poe!” The man replied.
“What’s that? I couldn’t quite make out that last part…” I was now transparent in my lightheartedness. While all this was taking place, Jay, my partner, had grabbed some warm saline that we had brought with us and was now pouring it down the pole just above the man’s head. And just like that, the man was freed from the shackles of cryoprison. He was now however sentenced to life with punitive lashings from the whips of his friends and family’s tongues… no pun intended.
Back on the couch, I was now giddy and chuckling aloud. This caused us to pause the movie and forced me to recite what had happened that day for Sheena. We shared a good laugh before continuing on.
When I woke up this morning—on the day after—I was not as crippled by sadness as I so often am. It’s there, of course, but so is something else; contentedness. For the first time in a long time, I was able to recall an amusing story of being a paramedic on Christmas as opposed to gnawing on the other stories that have taken place on that, the 25th day of December.
There’s always a day after… but not all of those days are going to be sad or weighted. And that’s not a bad gift for a wretch like me to have on Christmas.
In fact, you might even say, that the day after is a Christmas Story…
Merry Christmas. Happy New year.